The Toughest Interview Question
"Tell Me about Yourself"
This seems like such an innocuous question, but many novice job candidates have a hard time
giving an answer. Even experienced interviewees can sound like canned ads for the jobs they
are interviewing for. Employers ask open-ended questions so they can see how candidates
will present their skills, abilities, and ambitions.
Here are the most common mistakes to make when answering this question:
"True Confessions" - Tess answered by confessing that she had just
completed the course to learn a new piece of software, but that she would try her
best to do a good job. This shows a lack of self-confidence so Tess will not rank
high on the list of who to hire.
"Home and Personal Life" - Women are most likely to make this mistake of
describing how many children they have and disclosing other personal information, such
as age and marital status which are illegal for the employer to ask.
"The Commercial" - Some people have read interviewing books or been trained
by career counselors. They may give a 30-second commercial which shows their skills being
tailored to the job needs. These often sound too canned and may be too limiting in showing
the candidate's abilities.
"I'll Tell You Exactly What You Want to Hear" - Some job candidates try to be
all things to all people and emphasize skills that they believe the other person wants to
hear. One individual talked about his attention to detail and accuracy and how he could
keep a project's budget on track. A few months after he was hired, he was seldom in his
office and spent lots of time making contacts that could potentially bring in new business.
Fortunately, his manager was knowledgeable about temperament and realized that he was likely
was an Artisan Promoter. He now works in a position that better fits his talents.
How can you prepare to answer an open-ended question such as "Tell Me about Yourself?"
You can use your results from the Keirsey Temperament Sorter as a tool. Review the document and
highlight areas that demonstrate skills you enjoy using. Write down verbs that show you in action
and nouns that show your qualities that you exhibit. Next, write down three adjectives that describe
you. Here's a sample to choose from: energetic, organized, timely, adaptable, far-thinking,
problem-solving, artistic, creative. Then , think of a time when you solved a problem.
Employers like to hire people who show initiative. Then organize these items into a 30-second
A Guardian might want to emphasize their organizational ability, their dedication and timeliness.
They are very skilled at making sure that things, information and people are in the right place at the
right time. Gina, a Guardian Supervisor, was applying for an accounting position. She had just graduated
from college and her work experience included an internship. Here's her answer to "Tell Me about Yourself."
"Last summer I worked as an intern for XYZ Accounting. I was known for being thorough and
accurate in my work. We were in a big rush to make a deadline and I noticed that one page was
missing from the master I was copying. I let my boss know. We found it, and were able to get
the pages in order and the report printed in time for his meeting. I'm sure that my attention
to detail and to high quality work will be an advantage for your company."
An Artisan might want to emphasize their versatility, their fast response time, and their
energetic problem-solving abilities. Brian was an Artisan Performer, with a lot of
experience in customer service. He answered the question in this manner:
"I've spent ten years in Customer Service. People want solutions, and they want them
quickly. I'm known as a guy who gets things done. One of our dealers sold both new and
used cars. He had a customer interested in a luxury used sports car that needed a
particular part. He'd had no luck getting the part through his usual channels and
asked me for help. I made a few calls and the part was on its way to him from across
the country in two hours. The sale went through. I'm really energized by solving
problems for people."
An Idealist might want to emphasize their ability to work in teams and to coach others
to success. Inez is an Idealist Teacher experienced in Human Resources. She worked in
various departments and her ambition was to become a manager. She applied for a position
as a Manager of Employee Relations in a large company. Here's her answer:
"With 20 years experience in various departments in Human Resources, I'm ready to
contribute my knowledge to managing the Employee Relations department. This department
requires knowledge of legal liability and requirements for businesses. Both employees
and managers are uncomfortable with employee relation issues. Education of all parties
given with a large dose of tact is necessary to keep problems to a minimum. In my last
position we were able to forestall a potential lawsuit. One thing I particularly pride
myself on was being able to solve issues of employee/supervisor mismatch. Helping them
understand their roles, responsibilities, differences in strengths and weaknesses
solved many problems. At times it was necessary to reassign the employee to a
different manager so they could continue to be of value to the company. I'd like to
bring my knowledge to serve this company."
A Rational might want to emphasize their ability to analyze systems and to create
new designs. Tony, a Rational Fieldmarshal was applying for the Manager of Information
Systems. He answered the Tell Me about Yourself Question in this manner:
"As you are well aware, the field of Information Technology has seen a lot of changes
in the 30 years that I have been in the field. New software and new technologies are
constantly being introduced. It is a constant challenge to maximize the competitive
advantage while minimizing costs. In general, people who are attracted to IT are
self-educating problem solvers. But the rate of change and pressure on the staff
can be so high that people get burned out. One of the innovations that I used at
my last company was giving spot awards to individuals who volunteered to show new
techniques to colleagues. Many people in IT concentrate on their own projects and
don't pass information along and the spot awards have encouraged a more communicative
environment. I'm now looking for a new challenge in a larger sized company and believe
I would be a good fit for your needs."
In each case, the person answering the question gave a true picture of how he or she
solved problems and brought value in their last situation. None portrayed themselves
in a phony style. None are likely to end up in a mismatch with their skills not fitting
the new position.